What gives? 

A review of Somethings Gotta Give

click to enlarge Jack Nicholson as Harry and Diane Keaton as Erica in  Somethings Gotta Give.
  • Jack Nicholson as Harry and Diane Keaton as Erica in Somethings Gotta Give.

*Something's Gotta Give (PG-13)
Columbia Pictures

Director Nancy Meyers has developed a Hollywood cottage industry around the question: What do women want? Her first exploration of the topic, What Women Want, was a box-office smash in spite of its trite, simplistic, condescending treatment of a potentially resonant topic. What women really want, Hollywood directors should take note, are intelligent, unpredictable female characters in films that capture a piece of the complexity of human life.

Something's Gotta Give, written and directed by Meyers, delivers such a character in an otherwise predictable but notably witty romantic comedy. Diane Keaton, at 57, gives the best performance of her film career as Erica, a successful playwright in her late 50s who thinks she's "closed for business" when it comes to love and sex, until she meets Harry (Jack Nicholson), a 63-year-old who happens to be dating her 20-something daughter Marin (Amanda Peet).

At a little over two hours long, Something loses the pep it delivers in the first hour as it meanders through the third act. But the big laughs delivered early on leave the viewer with a lingering pleasant feeling.

Salon.com critic Charles Taylor has criticized the film for what he perceives as its "moralistic" tendencies, and for being "so goddamn middle-aged." Middle-aged himself, Taylor is bothered that the Nicholson character discovers that his love life has been empty and meaningless (a music producer, Harry has never dated a woman over 30) and that he ultimately finds meaning in his relationship with Erica, a complicated woman who shares a lot in common with him, including fear of intimacy and a chronic need for reading glasses. I found that aspect of the film refreshing, largely because of Keaton's honesty in the role, but also because of the apparent delight Nicholson takes in parodying the media image of himself.

A few minor complaints: 1) the aforementioned excessive length of the film; 2) under-use of a fine supporting cast that includes Frances McDormand as Erica's sister Zoe, a disheveled Columbia University professor of women's studies; 3) reliance on pop culture trivia like Viagra jokes; 4) a controlled, picture-book ending that, yes, moralizes a tad too much.

Those considerations aside, Something's Gotta Give is a damn near perfect romantic comedy. Keanu Reeves is graceful and charming as a young doctor who treats Harry when he suffers a heart attack and who falls for and pursues Erica with dogged determination.

But this is Keaton's moment to shine. She has already been heralded with the National Board of Review award for Best Actress and will certainly receive many more award nominations. No, she isn't exactly a poster woman for advancing middle age with her willowy body, her tasteful wardrobe, her 100-watt smile and her Martha-Stewart-fabulous house in the Hamptons. A little paunch or, at the very least, a saggy rear would have been welcome. But her emotional vulnerability and volatility, coupled with a penchant for the just-below-the-surface sorrow that comes with aging are dead-on. Keaton has played many diverse roles since her best known in Annie Hall, especially in the 1980s before she took to directing and acted in adult dramas like Shoot the Moon, The Good Mother and Mrs. Soffel. Here, she combines everything she knows into a dynamic, life-affirming performance, possibly the best by a female on screen this year. Yes, she and Something's Gotta Give are "so goddamn middle-aged," respectfully, affectionately and delightfully so.

Tinseltown, Cinemark 16

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